Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has the distinction of being one of the most ubiquitous films in terms of domestic release, with literally dozens of VHS (and latterly DVD) releases over the past twenty-five years. Jaws also holds a place in history as the first film to be pressed on the Laserdisc format in 1978. It is perhaps surprising that it has taken such a long time for this commercially popular film to arrive on the Blu-ray format. Has it been worth the wait?
Universal announced the release of Jaws on Blu-ray in late 2010. By then it seemed to be a little late in their release schedule. The reasoning behind the delay is now a little clearer, as Jaws had been selected among a dozen of Universal classics to be released in celebration of the studio's 100th anniversary. Completely restored an assembled from the original camera negative elements, using lengthy wet-gate processing at 4k resolution, the entire restoration process extends beyond that of a tidy up for Blu-ray, but rather part of a huge archival process to restore and retain the film for future generations.
The 4k restoration process for Jaws was deemed so successful by Universal that the studio released the picture for a limited engagement at cinemas in the Summer of 2012. This gave many audiences the chance to enjoy Jaws on the big screen as originally intended. (An appraisal of that release, and the film in general, can be found in an earlier article called Experiencing Jaws on the Big Screen.)
Looking towards the Blu-ray, fans will be pleased to see Jaws released in possibly the best condition is has ever been. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, it is also the fullest frame capture of the film to date. Levels are balanced perfectly with rich blacks and balanced skin tones. The redness of the diluting blood in the sea is now intensely vivid, as opposed to an almost dull orange in older prints. Long shots of the horizon now reveal clouds and details which were previously burnt out, and hidden details come to the fore, such as a persistent fly buzzing around the Town Hall. Surprisingly for a picture of this era there is very little evident grain, thanks again due to a transfer of the best possible elements and some judicious digital noise reduction. In short, it appears like a film shot no more than a decade ago.
How film purists will feel about Jaws appearing so pin-sharp and blemish-free is perhaps another matter. Colour films from any era have a particular patina due to the stock and chemical processes used at the time. Films of the 1970s generally have a celebrated grain and documentary realism. Jaws has been remastered directly from the very negatives which were rolling in the cameras on location; the intermediate process of striking a positive copy for projection has been skipped, and as such the more contrasty, grainy and dreamlike qualities in the chemical colour palette are no longer part of the workflow. For some viewers, the inherent grain, dust, sparkle and ethereal colours of film are what movies are all about. Indeed, Spielberg himself has stated that the Blu-ray now looks far clearer than the prints which audiences would have seen in 1975. Whether this impacts on your view of watching a movie of this era is, of course, entirely subjective. Simply put, Jaws appears renewed and as fresh as a daisy. With so much more new information now in the frame, it’s as if you’re watching it for the first time.
The original DVD of Jaws imposed a modern DTS remix of the audio, criminally excluding the option to enjoy the original mono mix which won the 1976 Academy Award for sound. Thankfully this Blu-ray, in line with the cinematic re-release, has all the original sound elements reassembled into a 7.1 upmix, with an optional mixdown to 2.0. Waves now lap around your ears and the pounding of the shark against the Orca’s hull exerts an added punch of bass. John Williams’ famous score sounds equally fabulous with a wider range, allowing the intricacy and sheer power of his arrangement to be enjoyed with a renewed intensity and depth. Fortified with the extension of modern technology, Jaws sounds as it great as it ever did, but with an added polish for younger ears.
Packaged with the disc are a number of previously released extras, such as behind the scenes news spots from 1974, trailers and Laurent Bouzereau’s The Making of Jaws - a two-hour documentary originally produced for the 1995 laserdisc. Considered to be the definitive making-of feature for Jaws, it was also the first such documentary to reveal the film’s production secrets. It has since been outdone by The Shark is Still Working, a new feature-length study produced by a group of dedicated fans, which relentlessly covers the production history and enduring appeal of the Jaws franchise. A slightly sobering fact is that writer Peter Benchley, as well the films producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, have died in the time between its production and release. Roy Scheider, who voices the linking narration, passed away a few months after its completion. As such, The Shark is Still Working is not only the most comprehensive study of Jaws, but most certainly the final word for many of its cast and crew.
Inherited from the DVD release are some deleted scenes (which appear to be the same fuzzy transfers as prepared for the Laserdisc release), a few outtakes, and a BBC news item interviewing a very young and clearly anxious Steven Spielberg. What the disc desperately lacks is a director's commentary, a feature which Spielberg has gone on record as saying he isn't particularly fond of. A pity, as of all his films this is arguably the coming-of-age breakthrough film which deserves his full shot-by-shot testimony.
Available in standard and Steelcase editions, the disc’s packaging boasts the original Roger Kastel poster art, graded and presented in the cool shades of teal as it appeared in 1975. Simple and beautiful, the iconography of Kastel’s work remains as evocative as John William’s score or Spielberg’s direction. After years of botched cover art and tinkered with imagery, the duty of care taken with such details adds another small, but satisfying layer of value to this release. From top to bottom, Universal have set a benchmark of quality and care with the Jaws Blu-ray.
Jaws is one the finest and most influential pictures ever made. It now has a consumer release which is befitting of its importance. Meticulously restored and lovingly presented, its place in history will be acknowledged by its pride of place on the shelf of all good film collectors.
Theatre Manager, Writer, Film Photographer & Printer, Reviewer, Reader. Secular biped mammal with own views. © Samuel Payne 2016